In this article we look at a recent case which highlights how the full range of penalties for Corporate Manslaughter can be brought to bear against even the smallest corporate offenders.
On 3 February 2015, building firm Peter Mawson Limited became the latest company to be convicted of Corporate Manslaughter (the 11th UK conviction). The conviction followed the death of Jason Pennington, killed in 2011 when he fell through a skylight onto a concrete roof below. This conviction is the seventh in the past year; representing the highest number of convictions in any 12 month period since the adoption of the offence. It also serves as a salutary reminder of the ammunition courts now have to punish organisations for breach of health and safety practices.
The fine, Publicity Order and additional prosecutions
The company, which pleaded guilty to the offence, was fined £220,000 (£200,000 for Corporate Manslaughter and £20,000 for the health and safety breach), as well as costs of £31,500. It should be noted that this would have been £330,000 plus costs, if it had not been for the early guilty plea.
This is a one of a small, but growing, number of cases in which a Publicity Order has been made. The power to make such an order is found in the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 (CMCHA) Section 10 and states that the court may require an organisation to publicise, in a specified manner, its conviction, the particulars of the offence, the fine and any remedial order made. Here, Peter Mawson Limited was directed to advertise the fact of its conviction through a half page advertisement in a local newspaper and a notice on its own website.
Peter Mawson, who also pleaded guilty, was additionally prosecuted for gross negligence manslaughter for his role in the death of Mr Pennington. He was sentenced to eight months in prison, suspended for two years, with 200 hours unpaid work.
Assessing appropriate sentence
The Sentencing Guidelines Council is currently reviewing the sentencing guidelines for Corporate Manslaughter following a consultation with a view to creating a more joined up approach to sentencing for both fatal health and safety offences and Corporate Manslaughter. If its proposals are implemented, large organisations committing Corporate Manslaughter could face fines of up to £20 million, fatal health and safety offences could carry fines of up to £10 million. Especially in more serious offences with aggravating circumstances, the courts will give little credence to the fact that potential fines might have the inevitable effect of putting a company out of business. Publicity orders, for small to medium sized businesses, can likewise destroy reputation goodwill and really hit the bottom line of companies.
This case and the recent approach of the courts highlight the importance of risk assessments. Risk assessments must be integral to the day to day running of any business and must be viewed as part of business planning. Bearing in mind the human tragedies that can result, alongside the financial and reputational impact for business, it is more vital than ever that safety management practices are in place, with a view to complying with these four pertinent points:
- Planning the direction for effective health and safety management, including defining the roles of the board and its role in the health and safety policy.
- Delivering health and safety to the organisation by introducing management systems and practices to ensure that risks are dealt with sensibly, responsibly and proportionately.
- Monitoring health and safety through specific and routine reports on the performance of the health and safety policy.
- Formally reviewing health and safety performance at least once a year.
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Author: Simon TingleThis information is intended as a general discussion surrounding the topics covered and is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. DWF is not responsible for any activity undertaken based on this information.